What is an Unconscionable Contract?

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What is an Unconscionable Contract?

An unconscionable contract is one that is so one-sided that it is unfair to one party and therefore unenforceable under law.  It is a type of contract that leaves one party with no real, meaningful choice, usually due to major differences in bargaining power between the parties.

In a lawsuit, if the court finds a contract to be unconscionable, they will typically declare the contract to be void.  No damages award or specific performance will be issued, but instead the parties will be released from their contract obligations.

What Makes a Contract Unconscionable?

A contract may be found to be unconscionable based on three different factors:

Thus, the basic characteristic of most unconscionable contracts is that one party signed the contract under situations involving pressure, lack of information, or by being misled.

What is an Unconscionable Contract Example?

A typical example of an unconscionable contract is where one party is an experienced dealer in a type of business, while the other party is an average consumer. 

Suppose that the business dealer requires the consumer to sign a contract.  Within the contract, they have buried very complicated, technical language that most people wouldn’t understand or recognize.  The business dealer used very small font and inserted the clause in a way that would purposefully mislead the consumer into signing on unfair terms. 

In this case, the contract might be declared unconscionable due to the unequal bargaining power between the parties, and the fact that one party used their knowledge and experience to take advantage of the other.  If the court finds the contract unconscionable, it will be declared void and unenforceable.

What is an Unconscionable Contract Compared to an Illegal Contract?

An unconscionable contract is not the same as an illegal contract.  An illegal contract is one that is against the law because the subject matter of the contract is illegal.  An example of this is a contract that seeks to address illegal gambling matters. 

In comparison, an unconscionable contract may not be illegal in terms of subject matter, but instead is unenforceable due to the circumstances in which the contract was entered into by the parties.  In other words, a perfectly legal contract might be considered unconscionable based on the way that one party obtained the other’s signature.

On the other hand, both illegal contracts and unconscionable contracts are considered void by the courts.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have a Dispute Involving an Unconscionable Contract?

Unconscionable contracts can present many legal difficulties.  You may wish to hire a contracts lawyer if you have any legal disputes or questions such as “What is an unconscionable contract?”  An experienced contracts attorney can go over the laws in your area with you to help determine the extent of your claim.  They can provide you with much-needed legal advice and will be able to represent you in court if a lawsuit is filed.

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Last Modified: 05-31-2012 02:51 PM PDT

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